WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee announced Monday that it will assemble a team of outside experts to assess allegations of widespread voting irregularities in Ohio in the 2004 presidential election.
DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe emphasized, however, that the review is not aimed at challenging the results in Ohio but rather to address any problems before the next round of voting.
"We are launching this comprehensive investigative study not to contest the results of the 2004 election, but to help ensure that every eligible vote cast is truly counted," McAuliffe said during a conference call with reporters.
Democrats are concerned that some of their most loyal voters could be discouraged about voting in 2008 after two successive elections in which they believe they encountered efforts to discourage or suppress their participation.
"We will gather the facts, talk to the voters, conduct a rigorous analysis and in doing so make recommendations on any further elections reforms," McAuliffe added. "We will spend whatever it takes to make sure that we have an exact analysis of what went on in the voting in Ohio."
The Democratic Party chief said the panel of nonpartisan experts should complete its study by spring. He said they should include a review of the practice of secretaries of state simultaneously serving as campaign officials.
Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell was one of several officials who co-chaired President Bush's re-election campaign in the Buckeye State. In 2000, Katherine Harris, then the secretary of state of Florida, chaired the Bush campaign in the Sunshine State.
Carlo LaParo, Blackwell's spokesman, said, "We welcome any scrutiny, but if Mr. McAuliffe wants to get to the bottom of how the election went in Ohio, he need only ask the county chairs of his own party. " He explained that elections in Ohio are run in a "strictly bipartisan" fashion.
Blackwell officially certified the 2004 Ohio presidential voting Monday afternoon.
Bush received some 119,000 more votes than Democrat John Kerry Nov. 2 in Ohio, the swing state that proved pivotal in determining the winner of the 2004 election, much as Florida did in 2000.
Bush's official margin of victory over Kerry in Ohio is lower than the 130,000 victory margin reported election night but not narrow enough to trigger an automatic recount under the state's laws.
But Green Party presidential candidate Daid Cobb has a news conference scheduled Tuesday to demand a recount and insist that Blackwell recuse himself from participating further.
"We are demanding a recount in Ohio to protect and restore the integrity of the voting process," Cobb said in a statement Monday.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined to respond directly to questions about the investigation of the voting in Ohio or whether the president would support a Justice Department probe to determine if voting rights were violated.
"The American people spoke very clearly on November Second," McClellan said. "It was a clear victory for the president of the United States. Now is the time for us to all look forward in how we can work together to get things done."
When pressed about the need for an investigation, McClellan said, "I think the election was viewed as very free and fair."
But a report released Monday by a coalition of civil rights groups took issue with the view that the 2004 White House election was relatively flawless nationwide.
The report claims to have documented at least 39,000 problems with the voting system, including shortages of voting machines, the availability of absentee ballots, voting machine errors, delays in the processing of registration applications and, in some cases, intimidation of voters.
"The idea that the election ran smoothly, the idea that the election problems we saw in 2000 did not recur in 2004 is, quite simply, a crock," Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way Foundation, said at a news conference to publicize the review.
"I understand the relief that this year's presidential election was not held up in the courts for months after the election ended," Neas added. "Nevertheless, our election system is terribly flawed, and those flaws disproportionately affect minority and low-income voters."
Copyright © 2004, Cox News Service